Inspiring Personal Growth in Agile Teams

Episode 111

June 12, 2013


The Agile Weekly Crew discuss what individual growth looks like on a team in an Agile organization.

Roy vandeWater: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agile Weekly Podcast. I’m Roy vandeWater.

Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.

Clayton Lengel‑Zigich: I am Clayton Lengel‑Zigich.

Standard Patterns Of Growth

Roy: Today we are talking about establishing a growth path within an Agile organization. The general idea that you have a bunch of employees within the organization that all want to improve themselves, or maybe don’t want to improve themselves. How do you show them what they can do to get better, and incentivize them to want to do those things?

Clayton: Do you mean like get a raise?

Roy: Sure, I think that’s the classic management 1.0 way of incentivizing people to get better.

Clayton: “I want to climb the ladder, so I can make more money.”

Roy: You start out as junior developer, you go to senior developer, then you become manager, then you eventually become a [indecipherable 00:52] level officer. Each one of those titles is associated with a salary band. I think that’s…

Clayton: Standard corporate stuff?

Roy: Very conventional. Then you have less people at the top, so it’s a standard pyramid structure. What else can you do?

Money As A Motivator

Clayton: I guess we should talk about money as a motivator. I think there’s some literature out there, and some studies that show for knowledge work, money is not a great motivator. There are probably some people who still associate money as a status thing, or titles as a status thing, so they want that thing.

Roy: That’s still the way that most businesses do it today, so I would definitely say the majority of people think that way.

Clayton: Would an Agile organization be somewhere that people are so engaged in the work that giving them a bump in their pay is not “Make it or break it” territory?

Roy: There are definitely studies that show that once you get beyond a certain salary range, I think I heard you talking about it, Clayton. I think you said 80K or so.

Clayton: I think that’s what is in Drive.

Roy: I’m sure that number may be different, it’s probably different for every person. But that beyond a certain salary range, people are much more motivated by the work they do, and the people they are surrounded with, and the environment in which they work, than they are by the actual salary.

If you look on the list of things that they look at, as far as making a decision to switch to a new job, it’s very low on the list. They need to make enough to survive, but other than living comfortably, they don’t really need all that much money. Most people aren’t choosing a new job to get rich. The people that do that become entrepreneurs.

The Free Market Dictates Something Different

Derek: I think some of the things you potentially limit is if you have good people somewhere else that you are trying to attract, the problem is if you say 60K or 70K, or whatever that number is, the number you care about, then as long as you provide meaningful awesome work, that’s great.

What if there’s this really great person but they’re making 130,000, and their mortgage and their car payments and everything total up to that? In order to attract that really good person now, that person has to sell their home, sell their house.

I think that if everybody was level set starting at zero, I absolutely think that that works. But how do you be competitive, and luring good talent, when other companies aren’t following that same suit? What happens? How do you deal with that?

Roy: I can understand what you’re saying there, but I think there’s a difference between trying to lure people over with your culture and then dropping the salary down, and matching their existing salary but then luring them over with the culture. What I’m saying what wouldn’t work is having a crappy culture but having an awesome salary, that’s better then what their making now.

Making Great Culture The Baseline

Derek: Yes, I agree with that. But I think one of the things that you start to do is, do managers start to have a conversation where they really talk about, “Hey let’s level set, and it’s really not about money, and let’s make the culture really awesome.” You make the culture really awesome and you start to set this baseline.

What happens when there’s an incredible employee that everybody wants on the team. Everything’s great, but now you’re going to pay that person twice what the current people are there because they can’t do it? There starts to become some issues.

I absolutely agree that throwing money at the problem to make existing employees more happy is not a path to being good.

If you’re paying someone 80K, and you’re giving them crappy work and they’re not doing what you want, and they’re not learning, and they’re not growing, giving them 90K is not going to make them happy, is not going to make them grow. It might bump them for a few months or a year, but then they’re going to be right back to where they were at.

But I think it’s sticky if you just start to say, “Oh we don’t need to pay anybody more than the base that Dan says, and then life is good from there.” I don’t think that’s a very realistic approach either.

A Better Path Of Career Advancement

Clayton: Getting back to your original question about growth, or career growth. I think you had talked about how do people advance, and we were talking about the corporate ladder.

What I’m wondering is, what could a manger or management team do to outline some things, like a better path? What could they do to set expectations so that people knew, “Hey, in order to level up, these are the things I’d have to do”?

Roy: I feel like those expectations and those things to level up need to come from the team, or need to be based in the reality of that organization. Just saying “I need you to work twice as much,” if there is no demand for that, that may not be realistic.

I feel like it needs to be very applicable to an individual team. Certain teams may value a certain type of behavior more than others.

Holding Yourself Accountable To Your Team

Derek: Let’s say that, as an organization, that you decide that technical excellence is very important. Would it be fair for someone to say, “Hey, if you want to level up, and be viewed as the next level in the organization,” that you would always demand technical excellence? Here are some different ways that you could show that that’s happening. Is that the kind of expectation or metric you could use?

Roy: I kind of agree with that, but like I said, I feel like if people feel they are holding themselves accountable to the team…I am a part of a team of so many people. As a team, we run into this problem, and as part of solving that problem, I need to get better technical excellence.

Let’s say we are a team that’s having huge problems with technical debt. Because I am passionate about the team, and I demand that my team does great work, I am going to have to become passionate about technical debt in order to make my team great. But if it’s not a problem, if technical debt’s not a problem, for whatever reason, then maybe I don’t need to be awesome at technical excellence.

That’s kind of where I am coming from. It’s applicable to the individual team, and the problems that they are facing.

Encouraging People To Learn

Derek: I think there’s a couple of problems, potentially, with that. One is you are saying that “I can impose on you that you have to grow, you don’t get a choice about that, but then it is your choice on what you can grow on.”

I’d say, “If it’s so important that I get to make all the choices, why do you get to make the choice whether I grow or not? What if I think I am really great, and I don’t care, and I don’t think that I need to grow to deliver this product? STFU.”

The only reason I bring it back to that is I think that what we’re really talking about is, “How do you encourage people to learn?” My answer to that largely is, “I don’t think you can.”

What I mean is, I think that you got growth‑minded people and you’ve got fixed‑mindset people. I think that the first thing that continuous learning organizations have to do is starting to say “We’re not going to waste our time with people who don’t want to learn.”

Converting People From Fixed Mindset to Growth Mindset

Roy: But you can convert people from fixed mindset into a growth mindset. I think that the best way to do that would be through the team, and have a team really be pushing for that type of behavior.

As a manager, I wouldn’t be encouraging people to learn. As a manager, I would be demanding greatness from a team, and the team would figure out a way to help Clayton learn whatever.

Derek: But wouldn’t it be fair for the team and say, “I don’t want to fart around with trying to make Clayton learn. I want to do this other really magnificent thing”?

Roy: Yeah, after they have tried to make Clayton learn.

Derek: But why? If you are going to totally give them the power to do what they want as a team, why can’t they just say “Because we don’t want Clayton on our team?”

Self Direction vs Self Organization

Roy: It’s too easy to cast away people that could potentially be great, just because nobody gives him a chance. It’s really easy to make the easy call of, “Oh, we just don’t want this person, because it’s really difficult dealing with their problems.”

Derek: I guess where I’m getting is, I think that what you’re saying is that there is a difference between self‑direction and self‑organization.

I think it’s totally OK for an organization to say, “We think, for our organization to be successful, people need to have these type of skills, or need to have these type of abilities, and that we’re going to chart your success how you’re getting to those.”

Earlier you were saying, “I don’t think you should chart what I should be growing towards, you should let me totally define that.”

Roy: I don’t think that’s what I intended to say. Maybe that’s what I communicated, but I think I failed to communicate, if that’s the case.

Lack Of Organizational Mindset

Derek: I think if you’re going to say you’re stuck with certain people, potentially, on your team, and you are stuck with that there is an expectation to learn, I think it’s OK to say “This is the expectation of what we expect you to learn, and that we can chart, do you have growth towards that?”

I think in a perfect world you’d say “Hey, you work with the people that you want to work with. If people are dragging you down, don’t work with them. You define how you want to grow, and what the best skill set is.” I just don’t think most organizations are mature, and have teams that are mature enough, to fully operate in that capacity.

Roy: That’s true. Most organizations aren’t even working in a capacity where any of the individuals of the team have the emotional maturity, or interactive tools, to deal with giving people feedback.

If I had a problem with somebody on the team I wouldn’t even know how to address that. Maybe the best thing I would know how to do is go to my manager and complain, and that’s it. Or maybe complain about it behind their back at the water cooler. But I don’t know how to actually deal with a problem.

Derek: I think we even did this at Integrum at one time, maybe if we can find it, we’ll post it. We listed out like, “Hey, to be a good Agile coach, what are all the skill sets that you need? What are the things you need to grow in?” and then like, “Hey, can we self‑assess ourselves to say, ‘Hey, if we’re looking at this, where am I deficient, where could I grow the most, and can I be deliberate?’ Can I do deliberate practice on how could I be better at coaching somebody?”

Roy: Even in that, I remember when we did that exercise, we ran into some specific technical issues, implementation details that didn’t work out for us.

Derek: I guess that’s part of [indecipherable 10:55] . I think this is really difficult stuff to do.

Simple Rules

Clayton: Derek, you’d mentioned the concept of simple rules. I think it was from…What’s that podcast?

Derek:Partnerships and possibilities.”

Clayton: You mentioned simple rules, the idea of having very simple things. I like the idea of saying, “To be a certain level of senior software developer,” maybe, “You value openness,” or something.

I think there’s a lot of different Agile frameworks and different things out there that would list, say five, six values that are pretty easy to adopt. Something like openness seems very simple, and there’s probably a lot of different ways that most people do not practice being open or transparent.

I think that’s a very easy indicator, where you could say, “What behaviors have you changed, or what behaviors have you adopted, that show that you value openness?” Those are the kind of things that you would want to drive towards.

As far as growing on the team or in the organization, if you had a list of those kind of things, it seems like it would be fairly easy for individuals to pick those things, and decide which ones they think. Maybe they would need some help with the self‑assessment part, or becoming self‑aware about how good or bad they are at those things.

Roy: It’s funny you should mention that as a specific example, because actually I had a discussion earlier today about openness. The problem that the team was having was, they have individuals on the team that are braided by the rest of the team whenever they make a mistake, and that those types of mistakes are never forgotten or let go, it’s constantly being brought up.

In this case, estimating for example, they estimated higher than everybody else. It’s like, “Oh, look at this person who doesn’t have any experience and estimated higher than everybody else.” Now, they’re afraid to make any estimates at all unless they look at the team to see what the team has done first.

Making fun of that didn’t allow for the openness, but I don’t think the team is even in this point where they realize that their behavior caused this non‑opened culture. They probably think, “We totally criticized him, and that was nice and open, and we know how he feels about it.” They didn’t realize that they shut down the very thing that they claimed to probably have tried to create.

How Much Effort To Waste Before Giving Up

Clayton: Derek, in your example where the team would decide, “Hey, I don’t want to help this person try and learn anymore, I don’t want to make them learn anymore.” In a situation like that, how much effort would they have to put in before they said, “This person just doesn’t want to learn, so I’m not going to waste my time.”

Derek: I think that’s the organization’s call. I think it’s either you give people the power to say who’s on and off their team, or you give people and say, “Hey, here’s your team, and you guys need to learn how to work together as a team.”

I don’t think there is a right or wrong to that. I think there’s pitfalls to both sides, and if you’ve got somewhat immature people on teams, it gets really petty that you are just swapping people from team to team.

You’ve got somebody who doesn’t have skills, who doesn’t want to learn, so they go from one team to the next team, to the next team. Maybe they are a reasonable potential talent, but nobody’s mentoring them, or giving the time. I think there is some danger in there unless you’ve got some mature organizational pieces, but I think it could go either way.

Roy: I think we’re about out of time, so thank you for joining us. If you have any opinions, please join us on the Facebook page, at We’d love to hear what you think about this. Thanks, bye bye.

Related episodes